Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's better than one deadline? Two deadlines, of course!

Apologies for the delay in posting, all. I just wrapped up one deadline today to discover that I have another (smaller but still important) deadline this Friday. Welcome to architecture, eh? After I've gotten these behind me and have had a chance to sleep in (and not work a weekend for the first time in a month), I'll get back to posting. I've had some great email questions and comments that are food for thought, and I'd love to get all of your comments on them as well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More thoughts on gender and the architectural profession

I posted recently on how/if/when I've ever been treated differently in my job and career based on my gender. I and at least one of the commentors made the point that working hard and being really good at your job generally overshadows any gender difference. Being experienced and knowledgeable about how to put a building together or knowing what codes apply in a certain building type is what pushes you farther in your career. As I've mentioned here before (and as D commented in the last post), architecture pays you for your experience, not your degree. With the experience and the knowledge (plus the ability to relate to others and have good working relationships with clients, consultants, and colleagues), you can go as far as you like for the most part.

When I'm not practicing architecture or maintaining a blog, I teach a communication class here in Colorado. While the class is aimed at women, the skills I teach are unisex and useful regardless of age, gender, nationality, etc. The women I teach in this class generally range in age from 18 to mid-60s, and they're all interesting and wonderful people, and frankly I learn as much from them as they do from me. (Hope they don't feel conned by that.) I remember in one class, as I was discussing the importance of mindfulness in communication, a twenty-something African-American woman spoke up:

"I grew up here in Colorado," she explained. "When I went to visit a black friend in Chicago, we went shopping, and I mentioned how nice it was that the salespeople were always nearby if I needed some help. My friend was all, 'Girl, they aren't here because they wanna help--they're makin' sure we don't shoplift anything!' It never occurred to me, growing up in a nice neighborhood in Highlands Ranch where everyone taught their kids that everyone was equal, that someone might think I was gonna steal something based on the color of my skin. I was blown away that people still thought that way."

The reason I bring up this young woman's astute comment is that it highlights a concern I have for the Millennial Generation, of which many interns are a part. Many Millennials (and some Generation X folks as well) have been raised to be color blind, gender blind, orientation blind, age blind, and so on, and I think that bodes well for our society and culture. But there are still people out there who do see color or gender or orientation or a foreign accent as an excuse to exclude or treat with less respect, and I fear that like the bright young woman in my class, you might miss it if it happens to you. Being able to tell when you've been disrespected based on some superficial trait, like race or gender, is helpful because it guides you to right action. It doesn't mean you have to make a court case out of it (unless you want to because the infraction was so egregious), but rather it means you know when the problem is something you can fix versus something you can't. If you're being treated differently because you're not performing up to a standard, that's something you can fix. But if you're being treated differently because you're not white or not a guy (or as D mentioned, if you're not at least 40 years old), then you know there's really only so much you can do.

There are schmucky people still out there, making judgments about us based on our color, gender, age, accent, orientation, or political bent. And sadly, these things rarely if ever actually affect the way we do our jobs or how we work on a project, yet we might get judged on that: "Of course he missed that detail--didn't you see that red state bumper sticker on his car at the job site?" "Well, I'm not surprised that she didn't know that part of the code, it was too much for her pretty little head to think about." "Well, did you expect anything less than shoddy work from one of these texting, iPodding kids?" When I go out to a client meeting or a jobsite, I'm representing my firm. Anything I do or say reflects well or poorly on the firm for which I work. But I'm also representing a bunch of other groups: white people, women, short people (I'm not kidding), my political leanings (though I try very hard not to talk politics at work), Southerners (I'm originally from Georgia and have been known to use the word "y'all" in an email), and so on. I know that anything I say or do also can reflect on whatever particular group of which I'm a member. But my goal is to obliterate the perception of group and bring it back to the task at hand. My goal is to be so good at my job that it becomes the only thing upon which someone could base a judgment, and I urge you all to do the same.

If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here or a question you'd like to ask, feel free to let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How does a girl get some respect around here?

Reader C sent the following question in:

I'm curious if you ever had any problems as an intern being female and young. I'm 28 but in the right clothes I can still pass for a 13 year old. haha Of course I'm in appropriate clothing when meeting with consultants and contractors but I still feel like they treat me like I'm a little girl or the assistant. I met with a surveyor and an attorney for a project that was applying for a variance and I was treated as if I was just the copy girl... the girl that answers phones. I know being an assistant comes with the territory of being an intern but I'm 5 years into my career and I feel like I have a great amount of responsibilities... enough to at least earn a little respect. I start testing this summer, by the way. 
Partly I feel like I'm in this situation because my firm is quite small. Apart from the principal architect there are two senior architects and two interns.I suppose if I want to be treated like I'm in the upper rankings I should just move on to a different firm. I'll forever be at the bottom even when I'm licensed. Anyway, I'm going on a tangent and I hate to sound whiny but I just feel so strongly about this. Did you ever feel like you were treated differently for being a female intern? Even now as an architect, do you still feel you have more to prove yourself because you're a female in a dominantly male field? Do you feel like you have to be somewhat of a bitch to be taken seriously? I have many people telling me it's all about balance but honestly, I have yet to meet a female architect in the upper echelons of an architecture firm that has not been labeled a bitch.

This is a great question (or series of questions), and they're not whiny at all--rather they're quite important. They're a little hard to answer only because there are some variables involved in these questions. So let's start with C's basic initial question: Have you ever been treated differently as a female intern? The answer for me personally is: yes and no. I have had some people treat me like "oh, how sweet, a little girl is on our job!" and I've had some treat me like "oh, the architect is here--now we can get some questions answered." I generally have fewer problems with contractors, clients, etc. that are closer to my age (or at least under the age of 40 when I started out in architecture at the age of 25 back in 2000), but some of my best allies were men old enough to be my dad. There are some people who see the world as the Marines do: they address the rank (or job), not the gender. It is those folks who make it easier (usually) to get a job done because it's about getting the job done, not making exceptions along the way or treating you (or me or any woman) like they're less capable.

The next question was "do you feel like you have to prove yourself even now because you're in a male-dominated field?" My answer is this: I worked damn hard at being a solid, competent architect regardless of gender, which gives me the confidence to do my job now, regardless of with whom (or for whom) I'm working. If a situation arises in which it feels like a consultant, client, or contractor doubts my efficacy or skill, I call him/her on it immediately but in a way that is non-confrontational: "Marcus, I want you to know that if you have any questions about the CDs, I'm the one who can best answer them--I drew pretty much every line on this set, and I know it a lot better than Alex does. Do you have any concerns with calling me or directing the RFIs to me?" This is a little bit of hardball, but there's nothing mean about it. It's getting a situation out in the open and attempting to resolve it.

Now, that being said, let me address the "I worked damn hard" part. I think sometimes in architecture, there's a slight bias towards directing women towards space planning and tenant infill-type work, and directing men towards core and shell/exterior and construction detailing-type work. I recognized that early on, and I found myself struggling to keep up with the exterior detailing part of architecture so that I wouldn't get pigeonholed into just doing interior work. While I've still ended up being more interior space planning-oriented in my work, I also developed a knack for code research, which has made me pretty useful regardless of my gender. In terms of proving oneself, I've found that the best path to take is to work hard, keep learning and absorbing skills and information, and be really good at what you do, regardless of your gender. Your track record will speak for itself (though you may have to step up and remind others of your track record on occasion--more on that in a minute).

Finally, C asks if I feel like I have to be a bitch to be taken seriously. My answer: no, but it also depends on what your definition of "bitch" is. Some men (and a few women) will see any woman who stands up for herself or insists that work be done correctly is a "bitch". However, I've found that most people just want someone to tell them exactly what that someone wants or needs, and to be told that in a way that isn't mushy and isn't brusque and rude. Research by Dr. Linda Carli at the Stone Center for Women at Wellesley College found that people are most likely to perceive women as competent when a woman speaks clearly along with some basic "typically feminine" attributes, such as showing concern for others. I know some women with a lot of power in architecture (though certainly, there aren't as many women as there are men), and the ones I've found that rise to the top aren't particularly "bitchy". This might come as a surprise, but if you consider Dr. Carli's findings, it's not surprising at all. Being a jerk only goes so far, especially in a field like architecture, where relationships and good communication are so key. I've seen jerky communication and behavior stymie the careers of both genders. So if a high-ranking woman architect gets called a "bitch" by someone or other, I'm betting it's because she did stand up for herself/her firm/her client/good work/whatever. I've seen men get called "asshole" for similar behavior (though not as often as I hear women earn some caustic label).

However, C's email still gives me pause. Here's what I don't know about your situation, C: when you went to that meeting with the attorney and the surveyor, how did your boss introduce you? Did he even introduce you at all? How did and does your boss treat you in general and in front of clients, consultants, and contractors? People learn how to deal with you based on how they see others deal with you. If your boss said, "This is C, she's helping out on the project" or even just "This is C," then that's a lot less respect-inducing than "This is C--she's the job captain on this project and will be involved in the day-to-day running of construction. If you have a question about the CDs, she's the gal." (I also don't know how you sound when you speak, what your body language is like, and so on, which can affect these dynamics.) I think part of what has reduced the need for me to have to prove myself with those outside the firm is that my managers have usually (though not always) imparted my skill to the rest of the team. The others understood from my managers that Lulu was the person to talk to and she knows what she's doing, end of story. I'm sure we're not all so lucky.

Ultimately, C's struggle at her firm may be the same as one I've experienced lately, which is that of reminding everyone that you're not an intern anymore, but rather a really skilled, talented, and useful architect-in-training and even an architect (once you pass the ARE, C!). I've had to remind managers lately of that fact when asked to do some arcane task on a project. I frame it in economic terms: our office charges a lot more for my time now that I'm licensed, and I remind the managers of that fact when I'm asked to print out some documents or do some other thing. It's not that I'm above it by any means--it's just that I'm an awfully expensive copy girl.

I'm not sure if I've answered C's questions to any satisfaction, and I'm certainly not done with this topic, but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. I know my audience here skews young, and I'm intrigued to know what your generation is experiencing in terms of gender bias or differences in treatment in gender. What are you seeing and experiencing?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I get a job with little or no experience?

Today's question comes from B., who writes:

I graduated last May and I while I managed to get a temporary job (vaguely related to architecture) that lasted from July through January, I haven't been able to find any work for a firm. I had been hoping that the job market might pick up by now, but no one really wants to keep around, much less pay someone who has very little experience. At this rate, I'm worried that if I don't get any sort of experience, I'll be stuck with a very weak resume. Should I ask nearby firms if they'll take me on as an intern who'll work for free (either full or part time) so that I get experience, or hold out for something that will pay? (I've moved back in with my parents, so right now I don't have to worry about rent, etc). I would really appreciate any advice you would give.

I bet you're not the Lone Ranger on this one, B. While work is coming back, the job market is still slow to respond, as firms are still a little hesitant to hire someone at the risk of having to lay them off only a few months later. Let me first make one thing clear: never, never, never work for free. I've blogged on this before here as well as here, and it's worth repeating: never work for free. When you work for free as a professional with a college degree, whether or not you have experience, it's not only illegal, but it also undersells your skills and your professional worth.

Second, I've done a couple of posts on how to get a job in a down economy (here and here and here, for example). It might help you to get any job right now (perhaps based on a job you had in high school or college?), at least to keep you busy part time and get some money coming in, which might make your parents happy. You could interview with a firm to get even one-day-a-week work, even if it's just archiving their files and being their office manager to start with. Whatever it is, get paid. (I have a post about starting wages for interns here.)

Third, you might be surprised at what firms want. I know of firms that won't hire anyone with less than two years of experience. But where are these interns getting that two years' worth, huh? They're getting it at the firms that like hiring newbies--and those firms do exist. Some firms prefer to do some training of young professionals under the auspices of "teaching them right". Some firms, especially smaller ones of only a couple of people, may like to hire new professionals because, frankly, they're cheap. (Remember, architecture pays you for your experience, not your college degree. Your degree is like a cover charge into the nightclub that is architecture. Once in said nightclub, try not to act a fool on the dance floor or throw up in a toilet stall.) And while you're living with your parents right now to save on living expenses, you may have to move out--far out--to find a job. You didn't say where you live now, but if you're living in a more economically-depressed area (say, Detroit), you may have to be willing to move to another city or even another state in order to find work.

Questions? Comments? Something else you'd like to see discussed here? Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

AIA Young Architects Mentoring Series -- right on!

I apologize for the lack of posts--I've been on deadline and then out of town. Just as I got back, I got the email below from AIA Young Architects Forum. I'm glad to see them really taking a solid interest in mentoring. Hopefully I'll be able to catch one or more of these and report back. (And if you attend one of these webinars, feel free to write a review for Intern 101! And I'm having a hard time getting this to publish properly, so you might be best served by clicking on the links and going right to the website.)

AIA Professional Architect Mentoring Series
Session 1: Getting Work

The College of Fellows and the Young Architects Forum are sponsoring the development of a new, easy-to-participate webinar series to foster mentoring in the profession.

The mentoring series is directed to firm and organization leaders, unlicensed professionals, young architects, and current and potential trainers and mentors to help them understand what mentoring is and how to establish successful mentoring programs.The program will provide established practitioners with the skills and tools to act as mentors and career coaches to young licensed professionals and unlicensed interns.


Each webinar will help mentors and mentees deal with a topic, rather than train on the topic itself. Our first session,“Getting Work,”will deal with marketing and business development.


Session 1: Getting Work

Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 2pm EDT

Session 2: Profitability

Second Quarter 2011*

Session 3: Doing Good Work

Third Quarter 2011*

Session 4: Talent and Culture

Fourth Quarter 2011*


View the Professional Architect Mentoring Series flyer, or Register here for the first session.

Fee: $15 per registrant (via Paypal.) Groups may view webinar, but individuals must register to receive the 1.5 AIA Learning Unit.

*Session under development, date and time to be determined.